Tory splits set to be fuelled by summit

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The Independent Online
A European summit is to be held in Dublin on the Saturday before next month's Conservative Party conference - threatening to inflame Tory passions over greater European integration.

The summit, the first of two to be held under the Irish presidency of the European Union before the end of the year, offers John Major an ideal platform for a tough stand against Brussels' attempts to undermine the British veto.

But senior Labour sources said yesterday that Tory divisions were so deep that whatever the Prime Minister did, he would incense one side or the other. If he attempted to woo the Euro-sceptics who tend to dominate the grass-roots conference, there was a danger that Sir Edward Heath and the pro-Tory camp would hit back, and it is the public perception of division that does the most damage.

Even though Mr Major, and other EU leaders, agreed to the two Dublin summits in Florence last June, the Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind yesterday questioned the need for "Dublin One".

Following a meeting of foreign ministers in Tralee, Co Kerry, he said: "I remain to be persuaded - and I am quite happy to be persuaded.

"Circumstances may prove that my caution is unnecessary. But I start off with just a tinge of uncertainty as to whether this meeting will prove to have been entirely necessary."

One of the issues on the agenda for the inter-governmental talks will be the democratic deficit; the enactment of European legislation with none of the detailed parliamentary scrutiny applied to domestic legislation.

The Independent was told yesterday that Labour plans for tougher checks on European legislation are expected to include prior examination of ministers by Commons committees - before they go to Brussels to agree and enact legislation in discussions with other EU ministers.

A detailed paper on "Labour in Europe", drafted by the party's European whip, Peter Hain, was submitted by the shadow Foreign Secretary Robin Cook to the party's leader, Tony Blair, and other senior colleagues before the summer break, when the principle of tougher scrutiny was accepted.

The Hain paper says: "There is no effective scrutiny by the Commons of the crucial role of ministers in the Council of Ministers, either to influence them before they attend meetings, or to report back on decisions taken.

"Obviously in council meetings, ministers will be involved in negotiations, trade-offs and compromises.

"Therefore, the strategy or negotiating position is crucial.

"Yet in this respect ministers are not at all accountable to the Commons, except in the very general sense that government is supposed to be accountable."

Mr Hain has recommended that a Labour government should adopt the procedure that already exists in Denmark, Sweden and Finland.

There, ministers facing critical Brussels decisions automatically present themselves for pre-examination by parliamentary committee, a week before they attend the relevant council meeting, and, again, one week after council decisions have been taken.

The paper also calls for parliamentary scrutiny of the cooperative "pillars" of home affairs and justice, and common foreign and security policy, which, at the moment, escape vetting by the European legislation committee of the Commons.